Timing with Tuesday caucus meetings causes candidate quandary

March 3, 2014 Updated: March 3, 2014 at 8:09 am

DENVER - Strange timing with Tuesday's caucus meetings has put candidates in tough positions, having to decide early which path will take them to the primary ballot, and all but the most confident of candidates have chosen both.

In most years, candidates have time after the precinct caucus and county assemblies to assess their position and decide if they can get at least the required 30 percent of votes at the state assembly to get on the ballot. Candidates who fear they might fall short can instead collect signatures from registered voters to petition onto the primary ballot in June.

The timeline has tied the hands of Mark Aspiri, a long-shot candidate for U.S. Senate from Glenwood Springs.

"We may be forced into the caucus process but it was our intent to do a petition," Aspiri said, noting that complications with his petition left too little time to gather signatures.

But Aspiri said he's confident he can get to 30 percent at the Republican state assembly.

That's a task made even more difficult by the sheer number of candidates vying to get on the Republican primary tickets for not only U.S. Senate but also governor. It's possible for only three candidates in each race to hit the 30 percent mark and that would mean the remaining candidates in the race can only garner 10 percent of the delegates between them.

State Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, is one of a dwindling number of Republicans still in the U.S. Senate race after sitting Rep. Cory Gardner announced last week he would run for Senate.

Hill said he plans on participating in the caucus but, just in case, his volunteers are gathering signatures.

"We need all hands on deck," Hill said.

By going both routes, Hill said his campaign will give a voice to everyone in the Republican Party, not just the establishment who usually participate in the caucus process.

But there's a risk to go the caucus route.

Any candidate who fails to earn at least 10 percent at the state assembly is barred from then petitioning onto the ballot. But candidates can forgo the assembly and, instead, collect signatures.

State Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, had planned to only petition onto the ballot before she stepped aside last week and promised to instead back Gardner in his bid.

Jeff Hays, chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party, said all he can hope for is increased participation and enthusiasm in the caucus.

Hays said the point is to ensure the "average Republican voter out there has a voice."

What's being overlooked this year is that Democrats also have their precinct caucuses on Tuesday. But with incumbents in several of the top-level offices up for grabs this year, the number of primaries are few and far between.

And even then, for secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer, Democrats only have one candidate in those races.

Jennifer Koch, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party, said that despite the lack of a statewide contested race, Democrats across the state are still excited.

"2014 is probably one of the strongest benches that the Colorado Democratic Party has ever seen," Koch said. "I feel very confident that the precinct caucuses are going to be a kickoff to electing all of our candidates in November."

She said there will be a statewide straw poll on Tuesday for U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who doesn't have a Democrat opponent, as a jumping-off point for his bid to re-election.

As for the seven Republicans hoping to get the bid to challenge Gov. John Hickenlooper in November, there's a mix of strategies going into the caucuses.

State Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said they are going the caucus route and aren't interested in collecting signatures to bypass the process.

"I believe that all of these hard-working grass-roots activists need to be respected by Republican candidates and let's see if we can earn their support," Brophy said. "That's why I spent so much time traveling all over Colorado."

Brophy said his coalition at the assembly is going to be rural people, gun supporters and those who are tired of the GOP losing.

"The 800 pound elephant in the room is whether or not former Congressman Bob Beauprez decides to take a second run at governor," Brophy said. "And, honestly, if he does, that doesn't change a thing."

Beauprez hasn't ruled out the possibility of running.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler isn't collecting petitions either.

Rory McShane, director of Gessler's campaign, said their strategy is pretty simple.

"Secretary Gessler has been traveling all over Colorado since 2009 and developed a mutual respect with the grass roots of the Republican Party," McShane said in an email.

Steve House, a health care consultant from Brighton, said his campaign is gathering signatures for a petition but also planting seeds among possible delegates for the caucus process.

"We could exercise both options we're not just sure yet," House said. "There's a risk. If we sense that it's not going to happen, we'll just stay with the petitions and go onto the ballot."

House, who is chairman of the Adams County GOP, said he respects the process, but that every candidate has to look at who they are.


Contact Megan Schrader


Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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